“You may have wealth and power untold; Caskets of silver, coffers of gold. But richer than I you could never be I had a mother who read to me” Strickland Gilliam
These words have been indelibly etched in my mind and have been with me for as long as I can remember. I was extremely fortunate, the beneficiary of parents who believed strongly in education and the value of the written word. My mother would always read to me, constantly and as a consequence I grew up with a passion for books of all kinds. To this day I am forever reading and re-reading books dealing with history, science, medicine and the law. And I now find myself looking forward to the times I can sit with my grandchildren and read to them!
As a young man, some forty five years ago. I observed my aunt Chickie who would spend literally hours reading to my infant sons. I used to ask her why she would spend so much time reading to an infant only a few months old, questioning her why she felt this was beneficial. I used to say…”my son is so young, he’s just a baby…. he can’t possibly know what you are saying”, to which she would sternly reply….”oh, yes he does…and he will”.
I know today that she was absolutely correct.
There are so many benefits that can emerge from reading to your child or infant. Some of these include the following:
- Reading to a child or infant brings you closer together. It is a bonding experience with the added feature of expanding a child’s horizon and experience
- Academic excellence. One of the primary benefits of reading to toddlers and preschoolers is a higher aptitude for learning in general. Numerous studies have shown that students who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well in all facets of formal education. After all, if a student struggles to put together words and sentences, how can he be expected to grasp the math, science, and social concepts he’ll be presented with when he begins elementary school?
- Basic speech skills. Throughout toddlerhood and preschool, you’re a child is reinforcing the basic sounds that form language. “Pretend reading”—when a toddler pages through a book with squeals and jabbers of delight—is a very important pre-literacy activity. As a preschooler, a child who has been exposed to reading by adults will likely begin sounding out words on his own.
- The basics of how to read a book. Children aren’t born with an innate knowledge that text is read from left to right, or that the words on a page are separate from the images. Essential pre-reading skills like these are among the major benefits of early reading.
- Better communication skills. Numerous studies have proven that children are much more likely to better express themselves and relate to others in a healthy way. By witnessing the interactions between the characters in the books you read, as well as the contact with you during story time, your child is gaining valuable communication skills.
There are several other advantages to taking the time to read to a child or infant. For example, children who have been exposed to “story time” and reading tend to develop a better grasp of the fundamentals of language as they approach school age. By showing children pictures and other illustrations in a book, they are exposed to an early capability to grasp concepts and apply basic logic to situations and to understand cause and effect scenarios which will help improve good judgment. Stories can help children assuage anxiety concerns such as their first day of school. Reading also helps instill discipline and expand attention time which will serve children well in future years enabling them to deal with problems and challenges. And, finally, a very significant benefit of reading is that as children are exposed to reading they will become much more likely to choose books over video games, television and other forms of entertainment.
Most parents know that it is nice to read to children every day, but are unaware of the newest discoveries in neuroscience showing that reading aloud actually stimulates the growth of a baby’s brain. The AAP has put together a short list of citations to help adults understand that reading aloud to children is as important as fastening their seat belts and providing good nutrition. A burst of research activity in the past few years is giving us a whole new understanding of how the brain develops and the crucial role of early language experiences, including reading.
Extraordinary advances in neuroscience have been facilitated by the development of sophisticated research tools such as brain imaging technologies, making it possible to study the actual growth and workings of the brain. These technological advances have come at a time of growing concern about the health, well-being and academic achievement of America’s children. Several important conferences, including a White House Summit in the Spring of 1997, have focused not only on the scientific findings but on their public policy implications as well.
What the research shows :
An infant’s brain structure is not genetically determined. Early experiences have a decisive impact on the architecture of a baby’s brain. “A child care provider reads to a toddler. And in a matter of seconds, thousands of cells in these children’s growing brains respond. Some brain cells are ‘turned on,’ triggered by this particular experience. Many existing connections among brain cells are strengthened. At the same time, new brain cells are formed, adding a bit more definition and complexity to the intricate circuitry that will remain largely in place for the rest of these children’s lives.”
The development of early literacy skills through early experiences with books and stories is critically linked to a child’s success in learning to read.
Development of literacy is a continuous process that begins early in life and depends heavily on environmental influences. Children who are read to from an early age are more successful at learning to read.
“. . . reading aloud to children is the single most important intervention for developing their literacy skills,” according to a 1985 study by the National Commission on Reading.
Early reading experiences are now recognized as being of such importance that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that “pediatricians prescribe reading activities along with other instructions given to parents at the time of well-child visits.” The President of the Academy, Dr. Robert E. Hannemann, stated: “We strongly recommend daily reading to children from six months of age.”
I guess my aunt Chickie knew what she was talking about……and she didn’t finish high school!
BY Joseph M. Valenzano, Jr.